Phew! What a scorcher!
With Britain basking in a heatwave, its employers are being warned that they must implement ‘cooling down’ policies to protect their staff from serious illness and prevent a drop in productivity. HSE guidelines state that employers have a duty to ensure a reasonable workplace temperature but, with no legal maximum in place, there are concerns that firms could be failing to monitor workplace temperature closely enough.
“Without a legal maximum workplace temperature, employers may be confused about what action to take, or fail to take any at all, warns Nasar Farooq, health and safety technical manager at workplace information and consultancy service Croner.
“Employers should implement measures immediately to counteract the heat, or they could feel the effects financially in the long-term due to reduced productivity and an increase in sickness absence. Failing to provide suitable ‘thermal comfort’ in the workplace poses a significant threat to health and safety. Heat illness can occur in temperatures as low as 25°C and initial symptoms can include heat rash and exhaustion, to full blown heat stroke in extreme circumstances, which can be very serious.”
The employer must carry out a risk assessment and consider such factors as:
- Work rate: the harder someone works the greater the body heat generated
- Working climate: this includes air temperature, humidity, air movement and the effects of working near a heat source
- Worker clothing and respiratory protective equipment may impair the efficiency of sweating and other means of temperature regulation
- Worker’s age, build and medical factors may affect an individual’s tolerance
However, maintaining a comfortable working environment involves only a few simple steps. Croner recommends the following control measures to alleviate the situation:
- More frequent rest breaks
- Provide mechanical aids where possible to reduce the work rate, or reduce physical activity
- Increase natural ventilation, provide fans and air conditioning units where possible
- More relaxed clothing may help employees keep cool; however this should be balanced with the need to maintain a corporate professional image and not impair safety
“Employers should take the health and safety of their employees seriously and consider how to maintain a suitable working environment, especially in light of recent blistering temperatures,” emphasises Farooq.